The Virtual Existence of Advameg

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Advameg.org is a toy of Lech Mazur. The Illinios-based website is a throwback to “World-Wide-Web one-point-oh”, which has recently had some CSS3 applied to it. But, it still doesn’t take away from the underlying design of the site, which are rooted in a bygone web architecture. One person said the site looked more like throwback from the days of Windows 95.

Many parts of the site appear to be somewhat up-to-date, due to their pulling of public data from whatever outside agencies collect them and make free and public. I have noticed that their RFCs are also pretty much up-to-date also. When I say “up-to-date”, is that everywhere I looked, the latest data, updates, and RFCs are from 2019. To me, this is much more up-to-date than expected (but still not really). All of this free data is curated over 72 of their websites such as City-data, Nonprofit Facts, Photo Dictionary, and one website with the ambitious name “Website Encyclopedia“. There is probably nothing in these sites that you couldn’t look up with Google and get more updated and more reliable information.  It would also be naive to think that all 200 million websites and 400 million registered domains which are currently active would be listed under Website Encyclopedia. Pile on to that the fact that there are a half million websites being added to their number each day.

What has not kept up with the times is their FAQ archive. It is a graveyard of FAQs that have not been updated in almost 20 years. This could once have been easily updated by checking the MIT FAQ archive. But since that is no longer in existence and USENET is pretty much dead in North America, most FAQ maintainers have found better ways of making their FAQs public, usually through making a web page. The founder of Advameg, Lech Mazur, was elusive and seemingly impossible to reach even prior to 2010, and by all accounts, even more difficult to reach today. It is one thing to remove a FAQ that is no longer topical or has links to other internet sites that are no longer working; it is another thing if you once posted opnions you thought were worthwhile 20 years ago, but no longer support.

As a bit of advice, if you see a FAQ title in faqs.org that interests you, try Googling the same title. Chances are you will get a more updated FAQ by the same author(s).

A website called Ripoff Report indicates that they have resisted requests to update or remove information that is no longer useable, sometimes in a way that appears intimidating, or in a way that uses their access to information about the complainants to reveal names, addresses and identities of anyone who complains about their services.

Also, it appears as though even a 200-word Wikipedia article about city-data.com was unusually difficult to maintain. There were vandals who posted content on the article accusing the discussion board of tolerating racism (this content was quickly taken down). In the Talk section there was extensive discussion about the site, including one posting in 2015 from an Lech Mazur himself who went on in excess of 500 words (more then double the word count of the original article itself) in great detail how to “bring the article up to Wikipedia standards”. He seemed mostly to be self-advocating, rather than bending Wikipedia to his will. He was posting his views on how it should be written, and the Wikipedia writers responded with their own review of how articles get written and sourced.

city-data.com has been cited a few times over the years by other websites like the New York Times as a reference to stats about things like housing prices, or in one case, their city-data discussion forum has been mentioned once when the topic of commuting from New York City to Scranton, Pennsylvania (120 miles away) came up. There was no comment on this, just a link. Therefore, it is puzzling to stumble into the review of this site from complainants to the Better Business Bureau, with various kinds of racism. The kinds appear inconsistent, with some complaining of the site becoming a hotbed for hate groups and trolls of various persuasions. The data side of this site is out of date by several years, and not that useable, as many other commenters to the BBB had noticed.

It looks as though, apart from being on LinkedIn these days, Mazur is also posting tweets about tech and science on Twitter. He is trying to position his company, it appears, in the area of artificial intelligence and natural language processing. He does not accept tech support questions on his Twitter feed. I would guess that also means no complaints about city-data or faqs.org.

Shopping for a printer, and network troubleshooting mysteries

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Brother HL-3170CDW
Brother HL-3170CDW. My current printer with the dodgy network card.

I vaguely remember the network card not working when I bought the new Brother computer I am currently using. But I decided about a year or two later to test what is wrong using my network tester, which can test a connection over a cat 5 cable. Plugging both ends of the cable into the tester seemed to work. So I know the cable is fine. Plugging one end into the printer and the other end into the tester, it seemed to work also. Then testing the connection on the router using the same cable worked as well, in the sense that the lights on my testing device were blinking in the right order. But when I finally hooked up the printer to the router, I noticed no lights were flickering on the router end. So, maybe that port was the problem? I took a working connection from a switch I didn’t care about, and plugged it into the same ethernet port on the router. Suddenly that port came to life. So, I finally recalled that the printer had something wrong with the network card. I had the card on the printer replaced early on, and it was defective again. That, I remember, was the reason why I hooked up my printer by USB. It has wireless capability, but 1) both my desktop PCs have only cat-5; and 2) the printer is not visible on my router’s wireless settings anyway.

I stuck with the printer because it was a simple printer that did duplex printing and did it well. But I am going to have to consider shelving this printer and getting another one which with a network port that works. So far, my best bet is to order online, since almost nothing appears to be in stock. I am reading Amazon reviews of some decent printers and there are many harrowing tales about multiple DOA printers (original was DOA and so was its replacement), sketchy tech support  – and this is for a Xerox printer, which one would have thought would be an established brand. This will take some thought, and maybe a bigger budget than planned. And this is for a single-function duplex laser printer. I am not asking for anything crazy here.

For now, I refreshed the drivers, and cleaned out the system using CCleaner. The printer will have to serve me for now.

Speccy
Speccy

I was reviewing my computer’s specs using a software called “Speccy”. You might have heard of it. It is one of those small bits of software that came with my “Pro” copy of CCleaner. It just tells you details about your system and components. I wanted a printout of what I saw on the screen regarding what drive letters are intended for which empty ports on my card reader. And about 30 pages of printing later, … not much on that, but a lot on each and every other detail I wasn’t interested in. It would have still kept printing had I not hit the “cancel” button on the printer. I specified double-sided printing, but because I changed the driver to the functioning printer in front of me, the duplex setting was forgotten about by the driver, and the 30 or so pages are all single-sided. What a waste.

Looking at the website for Consumer Reports, I notice that the field is dominated by Brother or HP printers. Xerox is way down below the top 10, receiving scores in the 50s, but no single-function printer I looked at scored above 68. Also, the most expensive are not necessarily the highest-rated. Another workhorse brand, Lexmark, also is not in the top 10.

Brother HL-3230CDW
Brother HL-3230CDW. Not all that different.

My top two criteria are “Predicted Reliability” and “Ink/Maintenance”. The latter criteria, I found out later, are mostly relevant to inkjets, since it refers to the ink used during their self-cleaning/maintenance cycle. All printers shown to me were duplexing color lasers. No printer scored 5/5 for reliability. The top-rated printer, a Brother HL-3230CDW (CR score of 67), has the familiar problem in that it refuses to print in black (or print at all) if a color cartridge runs out. My printer is similar in this regard. I like that it duplexes, something I am willing to pay a little extra for. But apparently it does not print color photos very well, a “feature” shared by these sorts of printers, apparently. The tray takes up to half a ream. Prices vary from $350 to over $550 depending on the seller.

Hewlett Packard Color LaserJet Pro M255dw
YASTDCLP (Yet another single-tray, duplexing, color laser printer), this time the HP M255dw.

Just below that is a Hewlett-Packard Color LaserJet Pro M255dw, given a rating of 66. Photo quality is still bad; and this one will reject generic cartridges, forcing you to have to shuck out the full price of HP cartridges. Horrible business practice. The printer I have right now is using generic cartridges. In fact, it has never used cartridges from the manufacturer since I had purchased it three years ago. The four generic cartridges cost me a total of $200. Each HP cartridge costs around $80, and four of them would pay for the cost of the HP printer they fit in. CR estimates that with the long life of the cartridges, your cartridge outlay will be in the neighbourhood of $500 over 4 years. I am converting to Canadian dollars and lowballing. Lexmark printers also insist on their proprietary cartridges. Xerox doesn’t appear to suffer from this problem; and Brother certainly doesn’t. CR’s priorities are not the same as mine, it appears.

HP AIO
The ultimate HP AIO color laser printer. The fastest, and boasting the lowest printing cost per page. At a $10K price tag, it could only be the lowest cost per page for me if they were giving away free reams of paper. It might pay off in a business setting where the printer is in very high usage, due to its monthly duty cycle of 125,000 pages.

Generally, the ratings are depressingly low. Higher ratings (starting at 78 and going down) are given to monochrome AIO (“all-in-one”) printers, and I am not interested in that. Many of them are also mostly suitable for offices. When it comes to color AIO models, the scores drop to 70 starting with a Brother MFC printer. These generally have higher price tags. AIOs generally print, scan, fax, and photocopy. I haven’t had the need to photocopy, and have separate scanners which perform much better than the AIOs I’ve used. And is faxing still a thing with anyone? Most of us just receive documents sent as emailed attachments these days. In my experience, the fax feature, when I had bothered to hook it up, is only just an avenue for a grifter to send junk faxes to me, at the expense of my ink and my paper.

I guess while CR wouldn’t have known that I have a high-performing scanner and have no need of an AIO, it has helped me to clarify my own priorities: 1) Color laser; 2) duplexing (inkjets do color better, but I am not sold on inkjets doing that on both sides of the same sheet without bleeding, and lasers have a lower per-page cost); 3) reliability with a cat-5 (wireless is OK too, but only if cat-5 is working); 4) compatability with refillable, aftermarket toner cartridges.

As a postscript, my outlay for my working, networked printer was $0.00. I turns out that there was nothing wrong with the network card. What tipped me off was that I got the printer to print out the network information, and noticed the printer had an IP address, and knew the IP of the router. Paradoxically, the printer was not visible anywhere on the network. So, rather than untangle that, a factory reset was all that was needed.